Managing projects effectively can be challenging even when using costly project management software. It’s not uncommon to see projects take longer than expected or costing more than the budget. Although all projects are different and cannot be treated the same, there are some common project mistakes that affect outcomes in almost the same way.
Good project managers can also make mistakes when dealing with big and complex projects, but what matter is to learn from these mistakes and more importantly learn from the mistakes others have already made.
Let’s start with the 20 most common mistakes project managers should avoid to keep everything on track and things they can do to avoid them. The list was created under the auspices of Elinext company, a software developer with over 2 decades of operational history.
1. Failing to Meet and Take the Whole Team Onboard
All team members should be absolutely clear right from the start about the deliverables and what they are supposed to do. A kickoff meeting with all the team members enables managers to clearly define expectations and instills a greater level of ownership and accountability. This also helps make them self-organized and more self-dependent compared to doing the same thing by sending an email.
2. Setting Goals Upfront with Team’ Consent
Not only it’s important to set goals upfront, it’s also important to take feedback from team members and make them feel being part of the project. Unclear objectives and goals make the foundation weak and if the team members don’t understand the objectives, it’s unlikely that the will deliver according to expectations.
One popular method of making the goals clearer is DUMB, which stands for Doable Understandable Manageable and Beneficial. DUMB essentially means that the goals should be achievable, easy to understand, measurable and produce a clear outcome.
Team members should have the freedom to make their own decisions when needed. Good project managers trust in their team members and avoid micromanaging everyone. Setting clear goals right from the beginning and periodic check-ins can yield better results than trying to control everyone the old way.
3. Not Having Clear Success Metrics and a Well-defined Process to Follow
Having clear objectives is one thing, but measuring them against the benchmark and making adjustments accordingly is another. The success metrics should relate to the set objectives and provide a clear understanding about how well the team is performing and what needs to be done if requirements are not being met.
A well-defined process can make a difference between a successful project and chaos. Clear processes and structure help everyone stay focused, which can be achieved by following an appropriate project management methodology such as Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Lean, Scrumban and Waterfall (depending on the nature of the project).
Another related issue is scope creep, which starts with one change request followed another. Although scope creep is inevitable, it can be minimized if everyone including the stakeholders understand the real cost and outcomes. That’s why it’s recommended to take the sponsors onboard when planning the scope of a project to minimize the chances of making too many changes in the future.
4. Not Breaking down Large and Complex Projects into Smaller, Easier to Manage Pieces
Small and manageable pieces are easy to track and make project managers and team members feel more confident about achieving success. Large projects might seem impossible to complete and can make everyone feel overwhelmed unless broken down into smaller pieces. Breaking a project into smaller pieces aka tasks and assigning each task to the right person makes everything a lot easier and manageable.
5. Failing to Prioritize Important Tasks
Just like all projects are not the same, all tasks also don’t have the same level of importance. Some tasks have to be completed in a tight deadline and should be prioritized over other tasks. Considering tasks as well as projects on a granular level using a task management solution can help a lot in this regard and enable project managers to prioritize more effectively.
6. Failing to Recognize the Importance of People Management
People management is an integral part of project management, which is more than scope, timelines and costs. Everyone needs to have a clear understanding of what’s expected from them. Successful organizations understand that improper people management can lead to unnecessary delays and cost overruns while still being aware that micromanagement is not the best way to manage project teams.
Policing team members and enforcing updates on them does not usually work well in the long run. Regular meetings and check-in systems save project managers from baby sitting and provide them with regular updates without having to police-check everyone, every day.
7. Lack of Communication with Team Members and Stakeholders
Proper communication and collaboration are important aspects of any project and failing to keep everyone on the same page can directly impact the outcomes. Since projects constantly go through developments, project managers should establish and stick with clear communication channels, whether it be verbal, written or face-to-face. Team members and stake holders should be regularly updated with the latest developments to make sure everyone knows where the project stands and the future direction.
A culture of open communication using modern technologies and regular deliverable reviews provide a clear view of how well a project is progressing through various stages. This also makes it easier to spot small issues on time and resolve them before they become a real problem.
8. Making too Many Changes or Making them Frequently
Sometimes, changes can get out of hand as additional requests start to affect the focus of team members and eat up additional resources, which is almost always the case with software projects. Although it’s normal to include a few changes in almost every project, these changes should not be too much or too frequent otherwise they can seriously affect the project outcome.
9. Not Using a Project Management Software and Trying to Do Everything Manually
Gone are the days when expensive project management solutions were limited to large enterprises. With the availability of some free (although basic or limited in scope) PM solutions, there is no excuse for small and medium businesses not to use one, even for the basic tasks such as time keeping.
PM software and SaaS solutions help project managers work smartly and make the most out of modern technology. We have already covered some of the best project management solutions and best timekeeping solutions in detail so you might want to have a look at these posts for more details.
PM and time keeping solutions enable managers to plan, execute, monitor and report more effectively and cover the entire PM cycle. Trying to do everything manually using spreadsheets make it difficult to manage projects and significantly impacts the overall productivity and efficiency.
10. Failing to Adjust Course When the Unexpected Happens
Despite all the planning and best efforts, things can go wrong, which can lead to project managers wasting resources on rescuing a doomed project. Truthful and transparent reporting provides stakeholders with the information they need to make a timely decision about continuing or discontinuing a project. This also allows a business to change course or allocate resources before it’s too late.
11. Poor Resource Management
Having inadequate resources and skills is another thing, but managing them effectively is a different story. Both skills and resources are needed to successfully deliver a project on time, which demands proper resource matching according to the skills of team members.
Resource planning is an integral part of project management and team members and other resources should not be chosen just based on their availability. Project managers should choose team members who can deliver according to expectations and have the skills/ability to contribute to the success of a project.
12. Failing to Take Company’s Direction and Business Objectives into Account
A project should not conflict with company’s vision, objectives and the future direction. The management can lose interest in a project if it does not coincide with the vision of the company, which can result in project termination.
A project that does not add value to a company and help it achieve its organizational goals can turn into a wasteful activity. Project managers should consider business vision/objectives as a litmus test to accept or reject projects.
13. Hiring an Incompetent/Inexperienced Project Manager to Lead the Project
Project managers who lack the required experience or skills are often the reason behind failed projects. Sure, anyone can learn PM tricks with some experience, but hiring a neophyte project manager can affect performance of the whole team.
That’s why the best strategy is to let the most experienced and skilled person lead a team, the one who does not need to learn all the tricks from scratch. The captain of the ship should know the ins and outs of the industry and able to foresee risks, develop project plans, run meetings and manage resources effectively.
Hiring an incompetent project manager is more common in small and medium businesses. SMBs should hire a certified PM who has at least two years of experience and the skills necessary to complete projects on time.
14. Mismanagement of Skillsets
Skillset management is related to resource management and another important aspect to consider. Project managers need to match the skillset of individuals with deliverables and understand how their skills fit into the project scope.
Good managers align the strongest attributes with project requirements. If they are not in a position to hand pick a team, they make sure to talk with their team members about their core competencies and experiences and pick the most appropriate resources available.
15. Failing to take Minor Details in to Account
A project plan is an essential element of a project, but it should not be taken as project timeline. The project plan should cover all the elements in detail, including budget, specifications, performance, quality metrices and schedules. A project plan is more like a route planner that provides sufficient details and leaves nothing to chance.
Project managers and team members need to take their time when starting to identify project activities and deliverables and try their best to cover even the smallest of details. In the real world, the starting plans often differ from what businesses finish with. But a clear project plan minimizes the gap and provides a benchmark to compare progress with down the road.
16. Failing to Recognize Success of Team Members
Recognizing the success of team members boosts their morale and productivity. Refusing to do so can have a detrimental effect on their performance and ultimately project outcomes. Recognition also covers small successes such as meeting or exceeding daily goals and short-term objectives. A performance review system makes it easier to recognize team members who are contributing towards the success of a project and making an extra effort.
17. Using an Inappropriate Project Structure
There isn’t a single project structure that suits all types of projects. Project structure depends on a number of variables, including project scope and team size. For example, a project manager managing a team of more than ten people will find it difficult to manage communication and follow-ups.
Similarly, communications can suffer when dealing with team members spread across different countries/regions. Accessing each project at an individual level and adapting a communication strategy accordingly makes it easier to manage communication and deliverables.
18. Reacting to Things Instead of Being Proactive
Projects can derail when the unexpected happens. Although project managers can mobilize their team members and react to the situation as quickly as possible, that’s not always possible because of time and other constraints. That’s why project managers need to stay proactive and avoid management-by-crisis.
Risk management covers identification, analysis and reaction to risk factors throughout the entire project lifecycle. A robust risk management system provides businesses with the controls they need to deal with uncertain future events. Although it’s not practically possible to predict all potential occurrences, a risk management system minimizes the likelihood and impact of a disastrous event.
19. Resisting to Change
Change is inevitable despite having a risk management system in place and all the preparedness. Project managers and team members need to be adaptive and flexible. It’s not unusual to experience changes in project functionality, whether big or small ranging from missed meetings to a change in direction.
Rigidness and resistance to change prevents project managers from developing new resources and approaches. An unfinished project is an ongoing process so project managers need to keep an open mind and come up with suitable solutions when needed to complete a project.
There are times when project managers don’t have any choice but to entertain the changes clients require. Since these changes effect the outcome, project managers tend to struggle in this situation. In cases when change is unavoidable, it should start from the top to minimize resistance from team members.
20. Ignoring to Evaluate a Completed Project
A completed project is not the end of the journey. Projects should be properly evaluated once finished regardless of their success or failure. Evaluating finished projects helps everyone learn from their mistakes, avoid them in the future and focus more on their core competencies. This also reinforces the learning team members already have and helps them tackle with challenging situations in the future.
Project management has evolved into a separate domain of knowledge and is no more a set of basic principles. Project managers can get boggled by the number of PM methodologies alone, which can result in choosing the wrong methodology and ultimately project failure.
That’s why businesses, especially small and medium businesses should avoid hiring an inexperienced/incompetent project manager at all costs as even their smallest mistakes can have huge implications.
Project managers who keep failing to meet project deadlines tend to make at least some of these common mistakes. Afterall, it’s not easy to juggle multiple projects at the same time without screwing up any of them.
Anyone can make an error, but the important thing is to learn from them and avoid repeating the same slipups over and over again. Our ability to recoup and learn makes us all better at what we do, but we can also avoid most of these common mistakes just by learning from the errors others have already made.